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Irondale

History

Town site photo

St. John's Anglican Church, built and donated to the community by Charles Pusey in 1889.

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

In 1870, the tiny settlement of Devil's Creek suddenly rose to prominence. Iron was the name of the game. It all began when two pioneers, Mr. W. Robinson and Mr. J.B. Campbell, discovered large deposits of iron while they were clearing their lots. More discoveries followed in rapid succession and the race was on.

Robinson quickly followed up with additional discoveries on lots 25, 26, 27 and 28, Concession 4. However, Campbell found the very best samples on lot 20, Concession I, a lot which was owned by Robert Gibson. Campbell formed a partnership with two men from Toronto, Shertis and Savigny, which led to the formation of the Snowdon Iron Mine Company. Robinson in turn sold the rights for lot 26 to American born Henry Stark Howland, who was living in Toronto at the time. Once word of the discoveries became known, people quickly began to gravitate towards the area. By 1874, Peter Barr had opened a general store and post office. Both a church and a school were added before 1885.

Finding the ore was one thing. Transporting it out of the mine was another. The first deposits were hauled by wagon along the Monck Road, little more than a trail at the time, to the railway at Kinmount. Enter - William Myles, an Irish born coal dealer from Toronto, who had also purchased a portion of the prized Gibson lot in Snowdon Township. Myles, a man of vision, came up with the idea of building a branch railway from the nearby Victoria Railway directly to the mine and perhaps doing a little mining himself.

Over a two-year period, Myles invested his own money to build a 6.75-mile long (9.5 kilometres) tramway, running from Kendricks (later known as Howland Junction) to the mines at Furnace Falls. He invested about $60,000 in the venture, part of which was obtained from a mortgage on the security of the mine. By 1878, he had grabbed about a thousand tons of ore for himself and then abandoned the properties, reportedly bankrupt. The tramway was eventually finished in 1880 and became known as the Myles Branch Tramway.

In 1879 Mr. Charles Pusey and a partner, a Mr. Ivatts, moved in as lessees of both the Snowdon and Howland mines. They erected a few buildings but then Ivatts took off to Europe and disappeared out of the picture. Pusey, in a new partnership with Henry Stark Howland, shipped about a thousand tons of ore to the U.S. and incorporated the Snowdon Branch Railway, with rights to build from the Snowdon Iron Mines to Furnace Falls, the same route covered by the Myles Branch Tramway. The mining operation was suspended and eventually taken over by two Americans from Chicago, Parry and Mills.

Parry and Mills came up with the idea of working the iron and then converting the ore into charcoal iron. They built a smelting furnace and sawmill on lot 18, two lots over from the Snowdon mine, where they also had water privileges. After spending over $200,000 to build a furnace, shingle mill, five boarding houses, a storehouse, workshops and numerous buildings (in effect a veritable town site), they ran out of money. If that wasn't enough, the entire site then went up in smoke, literally speaking, after being hit by a devastating forest fire. In 1881, Charles Pusey returned with his partner, Henry Stark Howland. Together they formed the Toronto Iron Company. After discovering additional deposits, they put together a plan that would turn out over 22,000 tons of pig iron per year.

Henry Stark Howland was an American who arrived in Canada around 1840. A lumberman and miller by trade, he became active in banking and was a founding director of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. In 1875, he became the first president of the Imperial Bank of Canada. In an ironic twist, both banks later merged as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce around 1960. Howland was also involved in railway promotion and construction and seemed an ideal fit.

Building on Myles' vision, Pusey and Howland rebuilt the railway, renaming it the Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa Railway. The name Devil's Creek was also scrapped; replaced in 1883 with the far less contentious sounding Irondale. The railway was completed to Irondale in February 1887. By that time the community included three hotels, boarding houses, miners' cottages and two general stores, Peter Barr's original store and a second store, operated by Pusey. Village smittys included S.E. Hancock and George Webb. There was also a shoemaker, W. Checkley. In 1889, Pusey built St.John the Baptist Church, a handsome frame building, which he donated to the community. In addition to the mine, the community also included a barrel factory. By the 1890s, Scott and Switzer had opened a sawmill and Miss Alice Barr was teaching music. Telephones arrived in 1898.

Unfortunately for the community, the deposits turned out to be far less lucrative than anticipated. Charles Pusey passed away in 1899 and the mine closed in 1900. Many of the local farmers were hard-hit since the miners were their principal produce customers. The railway went through several rounds of ownership changes before being more or less completed by 1910. It lasted until 1960 when it was abandoned and then dismantled.

Irondale continues to exist as a small scaled-down version of its former self. Most of the early mining remnants have disappeared, but Pusey's attractive frame church continues to function. The area is popular with both tourists and cottage-goers.